By Chris Townsend
May 24, 2020
I first saw Labor’s Untold Story in 1980 when I was involved in an Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) organizing drive and a retired supporter in the community gave his old copy to my coworker. Then my fellow worker gave it to me. Since that time many years ago I have sold, circulated, or gifted hundreds of copies of this book. I went on to become a UE member, staff member, and until I retired in 2013 I was the UE Political Action Director. In that capacity I was responsible for the book table at UE National Conventions, District meetings, and Political Action Conferences. Reading and study is required for the militants in any labor union; no union can develop a serious strategy to fight the bosses and politicians unless it has developed and maintained a class struggle ideology to guide the union’s work. I returned to ATU in 2013 to help to revive the new organizing and campaigns departments, and I continue to use Labor’s Untold Story in my work at ATU.
UE still publishes Labor’s Untold Story and it has just been reprinted again in a new and redesigned edition. They have done so since 1970, after the legendary UE National Officer Jim Matles saw during the gigantic1969 General Electric (GE) strike that the newer and younger workers were eager to learn more about labor history – but that the literature available was slim pickings. So Matles and UE embarked on what has been a 50 year project of mass marketing the book to UE members, the labor movement, and the movement. After 30 printings it’s my best guess that more than a quarter million copies have been produced and sold or distributed. The current need for socialists in the current crisis to investigate some previous efforts to organize the masses of unemployed will turn up many useful examples.
One of my fondest memories while a UE member was when in the mid 1990’s UE’s cutting-edge principled opposition to the death penalty was overturned briefly. The National Convention debate lurched into an argument over the problem of mass murder and gun violence in the U.S. and the need to punish the guilty murderers for their unspeakable crimes. In order to get the following Convention focused on the fundamentally anti-working class and racist death penalty I chronicled all the instances in Labor’s Untold Story where capital punishment was used to crush worker struggles and frame up and murder labor leaders both large and small. The Haymarket Martyrs; Sacco and Vanzetti; Joe Hill; and the Molly Maguires; and tens of thousands other victims of state murder are tragically documented in the book.
Needless to say the Convention the following year overwhelmingly renewed UE’s opposition to the death penalty with delegates citing the facts of the matter found in the pages of Labor’s Untold Story – copies of which were circulating right on the Convention floor during the debate. The national president of the Oil and Chemical Workers Union (OCAW) was at ringside to witness the debate and vote against the death penalty while he waited to address the Convection as a fraternal guest speaker. His comment to me was, “We would have a riot if we ever tried to oppose the death penalty at our Convention.” My suggestion was that he needed to buy a few hundred copies of Labor’s Untold Story and see to it that his members and leaders did some homework. I commend this book to all workers.
Chris Townsend was UE Political Action Director. He is ATU Director of New Organizing and an at-large member of the Marxist Center.
This article first appeared in Regeneration, <<https://regenerationmag.org/from-a-place-of-despair-to-a-country-of-struggle-an-excerpt-from-labors-untold-story-1955>>, an online publication.
The Fall and Rise of Mr. Grossup
from Labor’s Untold Story
…But behind the cold, expressionless fronts of tenements, houses, and apartments, inside and concealed from the public gaze, men and women struggled alone at first, viewing their plight as personal, private disasters, a slow and dreadful panic rising within them.
Such was the position of Peter Grossup, a tall, slim man of fifty-five, with a white, cliff-like face and a habit of comfortable silence. A skilled cabinetmaker, he had worked for twenty-six years for the Tonti Custom Furniture Company in a Middlewestern city of 300,000. Until he was laid off on Jan. 1, 1930, he had always regarded himself and his life with quiet satisfaction. He liked what was his. He liked his house, on which he owed only $1800 on a first mortgage, and he liked his wife and two children. Mary, seventeen, attended the Sacred Heart Academy, and George, nineteen, was about to complete his first year at the state university.
Those times after supper in the easy chair were the times he liked best. He never said much but he’d rattle The Daily Record open and read, half listening to the radio. He liked that Cameron fellow on the Ford Hour. A lot of sense. A man got what he earned. You got no more out of life than you put into it. After such a thought he’d sneak a look at Fanny in the kitchen, usually wearing her old gray sweater, and sometimes when the dishes were done she’d sit for a time beside him on the little leather seat that went with his chair. Occasionally he would fumble for her work-roughened fingers and turn them around so that he could see the plain band, the wedding ring he had given her twenty-one years before. He liked that ring.
That’s the way evenings had been before he had been fired on Jan. 1, 1930. Eighteen months later, in the summer of 1931, they weren’t much like that. Mr. Grossup still sat in his easy chair but he sat there all day now, turning things over in his mind, trying to see where he had made his mistake. Maybe if he had gone into electrical engineering, something with a future, things would not have gone this way.
It hadn’t been so bad at first. Sometimes he would leave the house, all dressed up in his best, and then he’d walk fast with his back very straight, his face carefully held to bright alertness, trying to look as if he were hurrying to a business appointment. But he always ended up in the park. “Something will turn up,” he had told his wife, “the President himself says so.” He had $312.62 in the First National Bank when he was laid off. After that went, he cashed in a $5,000 insurance policy and got $1,900 for it. If it hadn’t been for payments on the mortgage, $58.50 a month, it would have lasted longer.
He had hated to part with his watch and was still always groping for it. It gave him an empty feeling, just like his vacant pocket, when his hand reached in for what wasn’t there. He’d received only $15 for it and Fanny had received even less for her wedding ring. “Trying to make a fool out of me,” he asked, “pawning your own wedding ring? I suppose you wish you’d married somebody else?” Seemed like he’d fly off the handle these days just for anything. Like when she asked him why he didn’t go for a walk and he went god-damning around that a man couldn’t stay in his own home without being driven out.
Maybe if he had gone into radio things wouldn’t have come out this way, Mr. Grossup sometimes thought as he sat in his chair and stared at the opposite wall. He could hear his wife stirring in the kitchen, making the small, rustling noises of a mouse as if she were afraid any louder noise might irritate him. The house was very still now. The two children were gone.
George had had to quit the state university. First he went to Chicago, then to St. Louis, later to Dallas, looking for work. He wished Fanny wouldn’t worry so about the boy. He wouldn’t fall under any freight. The last time they heard he was in San Diego, bumming his way from Dallas. He missed his daughter Mary. She had married. Mr. Grossup didn’t like Mary’s husband. Sometimes he even feared that she had gotten out of the house just to make things easier. No money and the man of the house just sitting there doing nothing.
For the last six months notices had been coming from the bank about the lapsed mortgage payments. Any day now. Any day now. He didn’t let himself complete the thought. The Record was right, of course, when it pointed out that no one with get-up-and-go, no one with real initiative and enterprise, was on relief.
Going down to the county relief office had been the worst. He had had to stand in line with Negroes, and foreigners and people ragged enough to be bums. As a taxpayer and solid citizen, he had never believed in the dole. Sure, he was a union man but the AFL didn’t believe in it either. Well, he hadn’t gone there until Fanny and he had been hungry.
He had tried to explain to the social worker at county relief that his case was different. He wasn’t a bum. When he got on his feet again—but she had just given him a tired smile, meant to be friendly but seeming mocking to Mr. Grossup, before saying, “Next!” It was hard for two people to live on $12 a month.
If he could only borrow some money for the mortgage. He called the bank but they said it was too late now. The case was in the courts. There would be a judgment any day now.
His wife was standing in the kitchen door, looking at him. He pretended not to see her.
“Peter,” she said, “I just have to talk to you.”
Still he didn’t look at her. There was nothing to talk about.
“Peter, we just have to do something!”
“Do something? Do you think I sit here because I like to?”
Mrs. Grossup’s mouth quivered.
“Peter, you never used to talk to me that way.”
He glared at her. She did not retreat but eyed him firmly.
“I’ve been talking to Mrs. Flaherty next door. She says if you’d go down to the Unemployment Council on Spear Street we wouldn’t be evicted.”
Mr. Grossup was honestly shocked.
“Go down to that bunch of Communists? I’d die first!”
“Mr. Flaherty’s a member of it. We’ve got to do something. The sheriff will be here any day now.” In his excitement Mr. Grossup rose from his chair and stood grandly alone.
“The Record says that bunch is Communistic! They can take my house,” he said, and his voice broke queerly, “but I am asking no help from any Communist!”
They came the next day. Mr. Grossup couldn’t believe it. Even as they began taking down the beds, clumping through the house, moving the old sofa out into the street, he still couldn’t believe it. They were robbing him and he was alone. There was no one to help him. There was no police to call on for they were the ones that were doing it. Or at least they were deputy sheriffs.
Mrs. Grossup stood in the kitchen, huddled in a corner so as to be out of the way, her face still and crumpled. Mr. Grossup, like a troubled shadow, followed the deputies in and out, grabbing at furniture that he thought might fall or be scratched. Out on the street he stood bewildered, surrounded by the property which had made his days, the refrigerator, the Atwater Kent, pots and pans, their wedding picture, a framed photograph of George with his high school baseball team, the beds and mattresses upon which they had slept, the dishes from which they had eaten. A deputy was speculatively examining some of Mrs. Grossup’s best linen. Neighbors were standing around but Mr. Grossup could not meet their sympathy or even know it was that.
Coming through the door, tottering in the grasp of two deputies who found it hard to grasp securely, was his easy char and, as Mr. Grossup ran to help, one of the deputies stumbled and the chair crashed down the steps.
“My God!” Mr. Grossup cried, “you can’t do that!”
He was conscious of Mr. Flaherty plucking at his sleeve and trying to speak to him but his outrage was so intense that he did not answer him. The deputies were standing on the porch now looking at a group of men and women who had suddenly appeared. A tall Negro, apparently in charge, stood next to Flaherty.
“Good God!” Mr. Grossup cried again, trying to right his chair and restore the big leather cushion, “you can’t treat a man’s property that way!”
He looked around, his face twitching. Mr. Flaherty pulled at him again and said, “We’re from the Unemployed Council. We want to help.”
“Well, my God,” shrieked Mr. Grossup, “if you want to help, do something then!”
The tall Negro looked briefly at the five deputies on the porch and then at his thirty unemployed.
“Move it back,” he said.
In an instant before Mr. Grossup’s very eyes all of his prized possessions, his easy chair, even the big refrigerator, the bed posts, the pictures, everything was streaming back into his home. The neighbors began grabbing pots and pans and mattresses and stumbling a little and laughing wildly and calling out in excited tones, clumping up onto the porch with the deputies but more and more neighbors were helping and they just pressed in.
Mr. Grossup never knew how it all happened. It was a happy blur. He had his home again. He had strength. He had friends. His chair was in its place. His wife seemed suddenly to have grown younger. Police reinforcements appeared but left after looking at the increasing crowd outside. Someone was making coffee and sandwiches in the kitchen.
It was like a party. Everyone was shouting and laughing and Mr. Grossup shook hands with at least two dozen men he had never met before. The Negro leader of the unemployed, Hugh Henderson, a sandwich in his hand, was making a speech from the front porch.
Mr. Grossup somehow found himself making a speech too. “After a life of hard work,” he said, “Taking a man’s home. It isn’t right. They put my chair, everything, out on the street. Worked hard all my life. It isn’t right.”
There were cheers. Some of the crowd went away but more seemed inside the house. “We’ll stay awhile,” Mr. Henderson said, “to be sure the police don’t come back.”
A great tension, an awful loneliness, was slowly seeping from Mr. Grossman’s veins. He hadn’t known how miserable he had been. A man couldn’t do anything by himself. He hadn’t known how many people had been going through the same things he had.
Something had happened to him. He felt as if he had broken from the prison of his baffled self. No longer did he sit in his home all day. Still there were times on the picket line or while defying police as he helped move someone else’s furniture back in that he wondered at the tight, little in-turned man he once had been. And it hadn’t been much fun. He was growing under the impact of adversity and most of America was growing similarly.
The Battle Cry of Poverty
Hundreds of thousands of Mr. and Mrs. Grossups of every age, trade, creed, national origin, and political belief were coming together to fight the depression in 1932. As they changed, they changed the country. They transformed America from a place of despair to a country of struggle. They astonished themselves, not only by their courage and their militance but by the swiftness with which they learned, throwing aside old beliefs and habits which had brought them nothing but disaster. There were times that a man learned more in an hour about what makes the world go than he had learned previously in a lifetime.
The slow boil was beginning that reached its climax with the CIO. The country was punctuated by picket lines, hunger marches, meetings demanding unemployment insurance and adequate relief. The unemployed had left their tenements and kitchens, the four walls in which they had hidden what they thought was their private shame, and their slogan now was “Don’t Starve—Fight!”
Everyone was learning and experience was the teacher. In struggles against evictions and foreclosures, for food and shelter, the social power of people united—a power difficult to come by but absolutely irresistible when achieved—was being slowly perceived. The great lesson might be learned by such a simple occurrence as a man pleading for more relief, separately and alone, and being refused, and then winning the increase a week later when he returned with 5,000 members of the Unemployed Council.
There were Mr. Grossups who were Iowa farmers, crowding around an auctioneer selling a foreclosed homestead, law-abiding, conservative men who now grimly menaced anyone who bid more than a penny for the foreclosed farm. Pushing about a banker or real estate man about to buy the farm, the farmers often suggestively handled a rope as one of their number made the penny purchase and then returned the farm to its foreclosed owner.
Despite the aid of neighbors and penny sales, between 1929 and 1933 some 1,000,000 farmers lost their property through foreclosure.
There were Mr. Grossups who were veterans of World War I, already planning their march on Washington to demand the adjusted service pay due them, often called the bonus. But the country hadn’t seen anything yet. Police were assaulting hunger marchers, fifteen were killed in such demonstrations in 1932 and eight others were killed upon the picket line, but the great social upheaval in behalf of the common man was just beginning. Through trial and error it was being found that anything that divided was the cardinal sin. Through experience it was being slowly discovered that the spy and stoop pigeon were everywhere, and that a man must be judged by performance and not by what newspaper, stool pigeon, or Congressman said of him.
The weapon of the jobless, the organization with which they fought and defended themselves, was the National Unemployed Council. It was organized in Chicago in July 4, 1930, at a convention attended by 1,320 delegates. Until the advent of the CIO it was perhaps the most vital and necessary of all American organizations. It had councils and branches in forty-six states as well as in almost every town and city of the nation.
For the first time in history there was virtually no scabbing during a depression, the unemployed instead appearing on the picket line behind the banner of the Unemployed Council helping win the strikes of those fortunate enough to be employed. Its primary function was agitation and mass demonstrations to the end that people might be fed. It increased the relief allotments of literally millions, campaigned for public works and unemployment insurance.
Negroes, hardest hit of any section of the population, were among the most active in the Council, which fought militantly against every form of racist discrimination. Such was the Council’s power that the AFL reversed its position against unemployment insurance. The fact of its existence prevented the nation from ignoring or forgetting the 12,000,000 to 17,000,000 who were jobless by 1933.
One of the Unemployed Council’s big jobs in all parts of the country was the preventing of evictions. Some indication of the vast size of this job can be gained from the fact that in five industrial cities of Ohio alone eviction orders were issued against nearly 100,000 families in the two and a half years beginning in January 1920. In Chicago 3,611 families, including 26,515 children, were evicted during the year beginning in December 1931. During the eight months ending June 30, 1932, some 185,794 families in New York City were served with dispossess notices. But 77,000 of these families were moved back into their premises by the people of the Unemployed Council.
On Feb. 2, 1932, the New York Times described the eviction of three families in the Bronx:
“Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000, although in unruliness it equaled the throng of 4,000 that stormed the police in the first disorder of a similar nature on January 22. On Thursday a dozen more families are to be evicted unless they pay back rents.
Inspector Joseph Leonard deployed a force of fifty detectives and mounted and foot patrolmen through the street as Marshal Louis Novick led ten furniture movers into the building. Their appearance was the signal for a great clamor. Women shrieked from the windows, the different sections of the crowd hissed and booed and shouted invectives. Fighting began simultaneously in the house and in the street. The marshal’s men were rushed on the stairs and only got to work after the policemen had driven the tenants back into their apartments.”
And on February 27 the New York Times described a similar scene under the headline, “1,500 Fight Police to Aid Rent Strike.”
From the first the Unemployed Council was attacked as a Communist organization, and it was true enough that Communists gave it their backing and were active in it. From the first, hundreds of thousands of non-Communists in the Unemployed Councils were faced with the question of whether they should leave an organization fighting militantly in their behalf or continue fighting for themselves in its ranks. They rejected all incitements toward witch hunts, declared that division through political purges meant weakness and further hardship for the unemployed, condemned Matthew Woll, AFL leader, who charged that the unemployed movement was only a Kremlin conspiracy.
From the first, too, the demonstrations and hunger marches were regarded by police and government as initial steps in revolution. The police in a score of cities jailed and clubbed the unemployed with an almost unprecedented ferocity, justifying their actions on the grounds that the jobless were trying to overthrow the government.
The first nationwide protest against unemployment was called by the Trade Union Unity League and the Communist Party on March 6, 1930. On that date huge meetings were held in all parts of the country, an estimated 1,250,000 unemployed participating in them. More than 100,000 demonstrators gathered in Detroit. Some 50,000 came together in Chicago. A like number met in Pittsburgh and there were huge crowds of unemployed at meetings in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
In New York 110,000 packed Union Square. Suddenly the vast throng was attacked by 25,000 police. Hundreds were beaten to the ground with nightsticks, scores trampled by the charge of mounted police. The police went as insane as they had fifty-six years before when they clubbed the unemployed at New York’s Tompkins Square, and their excuse in 1930 was identical with that of 1874. The jobless, they said, were Communists.
A New York World reporter, describing the assault at Union Square, told of:
“…women struck in the face with blackjacks, boys beaten by gangs of seven and eight policemen, and an old man backed into a doorway and knocked down time after time, only to be dragged to his feet and struck with fist and club.
“…detectives, some wearing reporters’ cards in hat bands, many wearing no badges, running wildly through the crowd, screaming as they beat those who looked like Communists.
“…men with blood streaming down their faces dragged into the temporary police headquarters and flung down to await the patrol wagons to take them away.”
Hundreds of the unemployed were arrested, as was the case in Detroit, too, where police also attacked the demonstration.
But the unemployed movement strengthened and grew; the demand for unemployed insurance became increasingly irresistible.
Even the notorious Fish Committee created in 1930 to investigate Communism could not frighten the American people with the time-hallowed cry of “Red.” Said Congressman Fiorello H. La Guardia of New York, attacking the Fish Committee on the floor of Congress:
“I would sooner spend that money [money to be used to investigate Communism] for something necessary, for something constructive in the way of solving the unemployment problem. Remove the cause of discontent and there will be no danger of Communistic activity. But if there is unemployment, if there is want, suffering and hunger, no investigation by Congress on communism will stiffly resentment. Every open shopper will call everyone who seeks to protect the interests of the workers a Bolshevik. Let us not be enticed away on an appeal for security into a movement for the open shop, to destroy labor unions in this country.”
Fish Committee or no Fish Committee, demonstrations of the unemployed went on. Three thousand members of the Unemployed Council marching in St. Louis forced the passage at city hall of two relief bills. In Chicago 5,000 members of the Council forced the improvement of conditions involving 20,000 jobless living in municipal lodgings. With most cities approaching bankruptcy, with President Hoover still staunchly against federal relief, unemployment insurance, or anything except loans to Big Business, such demonstrations were necessary to avoid starvation. Their value is attested by Mauritz H. Hallgren, who wrote in his Seeds of Revolt:
“Social workers everywhere told me that without street demonstrations and hunger marches of the Unemployed Councils no relief whatever would have been provided in some communities, while in others even less help than that which had been extended, would have been forthcoming.”
As banks continued to fail while factories increasingly closed down and unemployment continued to rise, the prestige of the National Unemployed Council steadily mounted. Its leaders had a program—federal relief, unemployed insurance, public works, the elimination of discrimination against the Negro people—which was more than could be said for the frightened leaders of business and government, baffled and chastened by a disaster which they could neither understand nor control. Day by day the world seemed to grow more topsy-turvy, a world in which the jobless acted with increasing unity and confidence, in which the great sulked in semiretirement.
In December 1932, the Unemployed Council organized a national hunger march on Washington while stout, silver-haired old gentlemen in various Union Leagues and other exclusive clubs whispered again of the threat of revolution and of the guillotine. As columns from all over the country, their approach synchronized by careful organization, converged on Washington, coming on foot, on freights, in broken-down jalopies, panic seized Senators and lobbyists, Cabinet members and retired admirals. Congressmen demanded protection, prophesied revolution, and as the tattered army marched down Pennsylvania Avenue troops were mobilized for instant action at forts and installations encircling the nation’s capital.
There were only 3,000 of the hungry, but they were the menacing representatives of millions like themselves. The police had arrested Coxey in 1894, during a similar Washington demonstration, for walking on the grass, but there were no arrests in 1932. The parade was flanked by three times as many police as the number in the line of march and there was consternation when the marchers’ band played on the steps of the Capitol.
A delegation was received by crusty Charlie Curtis, Republican Vice President and politician from Kansas, who trembled with rage at the duty forced upon him. “Don’t cast any reflections on me!” he cried in a querulous, old man’s voice. “You just hand me your petition; you needn’t make any speech. I have only a few minutes time.”
Cactus Jack Garner, Democratic Speaker of the House, equally testy and equally reluctant to receive the delegation, addressed the chairman as Mr. Levinsky. When the chairman said his name was Levinson, Mr. Garner said, “What’s the difference?” He waited impatiently for the petition for unemployment insurance and then hurried away without a word, obviously feeling that the starving should starve quietly, without benefit of bands, marches, and petitions.
But the starving were not quiet in 1932. In the South, Negro and white sharecropper were coming together in the Sharecroppers Union. Ralph Gray, its Negro leader in Alabama, was lynched by a mob after the union passed resolutions hailing the international fight to save nine Negro youths, the Scottsboro Boys, condemned to death on a charge of rape although even one of the women allegedly raped said that it was a frame-up and no attack had ever taken place. The Negro people were in motion to an extent in excess of anything since Reconstruction. Almost half of the hunger marchers in the Washington demonstration had been Negroes and their initiative and courage were manifest in all of the actions of the unemployed.
As the sharecroppers of the South fought off mobs and violence in 1932, the farmers of Iowa, Illinoi, North Dakota, Nebraska, and New York were grabbing pitchforks and wrenches, setting up roadblocks and barricades upon the routes that led to markets. Thousands of them were on strike against prices so low that crops were being sold for less than cost. They were following the old advice of the Populists to “raise less corn and more hell.” Stones crashed through the windshields of farmers who sought to run the blockades and sell their produce. Milk was dumped, trucks were wrecked, their drivers beaten, vegetables and grain scattered to the roadside. The New York Times reported on Aug. 16, 1932, from Sioux City, Iowa:
“Scores of trucks loaded with milk, farm products and livestock headed for Sioux City have been turned back today on nearly every highway after the drivers have been warned in no uncertain terms.
“More than forty trucks were halted…north of the city, where hundreds of farmers had gathered.
“A few trucks crashed through a steel cable which was stretched across a bridge, but were blocked a second time when railroad ties were thrown under the wheels.”
Other trucks were stopped when pitchforks were used to puncture tires. Still others by stretched barbed wire, boards with nails, and barricades of logs. At Leeds, Iowa, according to the New York Times, “one milk truck went through the farmers’ lines, but pickets smashed the windshield with sticks and rocks.”
As the farmers of Iowa were planning their strike early in 1932, thousands of unemployed Ford workers in Detroit, led by the Unemployed Council, were also planning action to better their condition. In February, Edsel Ford, son of Henry, had issued a statement in which he had apparently generously offered to help unemployed Ford workers, of whom there were then 85,000. Taking him at his word, his former employees decided to march to the plant at Dearborn on March 7, 1932, when they were to present a program through which they could be re-employed.
Phillip Bonosky writes of the hunger march to Dearborn which ended in massacre by Ford police of Ford workers:
“It was early, it was cold when the first of the unemployed Ford workers (many of whom had been laid off only the day before) arrived at Baby Creek Bridge. They were a small gray group, and they stood slapping their sides, warding off the cold, and wondering if they alone would come. And then, one by one, emerging with hunched shoulders from Miller Road, others joined them; and then suddenly a hundred workers with banners came briskly marching, and cheers and singing broke forth.
Then truckloads rolled in from Dearborn, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Ercorse—yes, from Inkster, too. As each arrived, the marchers were greeted with more cheers, with louder and more triumphant songs, with great laughter. Old friends found old friends; there were hugs and handshakes, and a great impatience to get going.
The leaders arrived: Al Goetz, Communist and chairman of the Michigan Unemployed Council; Joe York, district organizer of the Young Communist League, a fresh strong-faced boy of barely nineteen; James Ashford, young Negro worker, active in the organization of the unemployed and in the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys. (He carried a banner: FREE THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS!) There were others—names that would never be forgotten, but now only simple, ordinary people: young Joe Bussell, Joe DeBlasio, Coleman Leny…”
The army of unemployed Ford workers, their banners shining in the uncertain sunlight of the late winter morning, advances toward the great stern plant in which most had spent years of their lives building Ford cars and one of the greatest American fortunes. But their fortune is unemployment. As they approach the Dearborn city line, the city owned by Ford, Al Goetz climbs up on a truck and cries, “Remember we don’t want any violence! A committee will present our demands. No trouble. No fighting. Stay in line.”
Now the Dearborn police are drawn across the roadway but the great press of marchers, extending for blocks behind the Dearborn boundary and unconscious of the armed police there, push ahead and thrust those leading through the line of police. Hundreds of Ford gangsters, the Ford servicemen under command of Ford’s Harry Bennett, protected by fences, from behind buildings, send a deadly fire into the ranks of the marching men as they approach the plant with their plan for re-employment. Bonosky writes:
“Then came the bullets. They whistled past Bill’s ears, and he remembered his days in the trenches in France, and shuddered…men and women fell before him as though suddenly broken. Young James Ashford, his FREE THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS tumbling, pitched to the ground with a bullet in his leg. In front Joe York fell. Some ran screaming with blood flowing from wounds in chest and shoulders; others writhed on the ground, staring at the bones of their shattered legs.
The marchers fell back; but again, the incredible courage of them surged up. They picked up their wounded—there were almost 60—these men and women who had never seen wounded before; but they did not run in panic. Blood soaked the road.… A machine gun, inside the gates, sent out a roar of death…. More marchers fell. Their shocked faces were thrown to the sky and they collapsed on the ground, holding their empty defenseless hands to their bleeding stomachs. Three more lay dead; Joe Bussell, Coleman Leny, and Joe DeBlasio. Twenty-three others lay seriously wounded.”
That was the Ford massacre. But it was too late to stop the American people with bullets.